Sunday, January 06, 2013


Book Abuse

Richard de Bury (1287-1345), Philobiblon 17.219-221 (tr. Eric Thomson):
[219] You will perhaps see some pig-headed youth lounging lazily over his studies, who when the winter frost is sharp, has a dripping nose from the biting cold, and doesn't take the trouble to wipe it with his handkerchief until he has drenched the book in front of him with the foul discharge. If only it was a cobbler's apron he had on his lap instead of a book! His nails are stuffed with fetid filth, black as pitch, with which he marks any passage that takes his fancy. He distributes a vast array of straws in various places, inserted to stick out, so that the ends may remind him of what his memory can't retain. These straws, since the book has no stomach to digest them, and no one takes them out, first distend the book and prevent it from being closed normally, and at length, being carelessly consigned to oblivion, they rot.

[220] He isn't afraid to eat fruit or cheese over an open book, or slosh a cup over it; and because he has no alms-purse at hand he drops into books whatever bits and pieces are left over. With his ceaseless chattering, he never wearies of arguing with his companions, and while he puts forward a legion of arguments void of any concrete sense, he drenches the book lying half-open in his lap with his spluttering saliva. Why go on? He soon has his arms folded and is leaning forward to rest his head on the book; a brief spell of study induces a long nap; and then, by way of repairing the resulting wrinkles, he twists back the margin of the pages, causing not inconsiderable damage to the book.

[221] Now the rains are over and gone, and the flowers have appeared on our soil. Then the scholar we have been describing, a neglecter rather than an inspector of books, will stuff his volume with violets, and primroses, with roses and four-leaf clovers. Then he will use his wet hands, clammy with sweat, to leaf through the volumes; then he will whack the white vellum with gloves covered with all kinds of dust, and with his finger wrapped in ancient dirty leather will go through the page line by line; then at the first flea-bite the sacred book is tossed aside, and is hardly shut for another month, until it is so impregnated with the dust that has found its way inside, that it resists any efforts to close it.
The Latin:
[219] Videbis fortassis iuvenem cervicosum, studio segniter residentem, et dum hiberno tempore hiems alget, nasus irriguus frigore comprimente distillat, nec prius se dignatur emunctorio tergere, quam subiectum librum madefecerit turpi rore; cui utinam loco codicis corium subderetur sutoris! Unguem habet fimo fetente refertum, gagati simillimum, quo placentis materiae signat locum. Paleas dispertitur innumeras, quas diversis in locis collocat evidentur, ut festuca reducat quod memoria non retentat. Hae paleae, quia nec venter libri digerit nec quisquam eas extrahit, primo quidem librum a solita iunctura distendunt, et tandem negligenter oblivioni commissae putrescunt.

[220] Fructus et caseum super librum expansum non veretur comedere, atque scyphum hinc inde dissolute transferre; et quia non habet eleemosynarium praeparatum, in libris dimittit reliquias fragmentorum. Garrulitate continua sociis oblatrare non desinit, et dum multitudinem rationum adducit a sensu physico vacuarum, librum in gremio subexpansum humectat aspergine salivarum. Quid plura? statim duplicatis cubitis reclinatur in codicem et per breve studium soporem invitat prolixum, ac reparandis rugis limbos replicat foliorum, ad libri non modicum detrimentum.

[221] Jam imber abiit et recessit et flores apparuerunt in terra nostra. Tunc scholaris quem describimus, librorum neglector potius quam inspector, viola, primula atque rosa necnon et quadrifolio farciet librum suum. Tunc manus aquosas et scatentes sudore volvendis voluminibus applicabit. Tunc pulverulentis undique chirothecis in candidam membranam impinget et indice veteri pelle vestito venabitur paginam lineatim. Tunc ad pulicis mordentis aculeum sacer liber abicitur, qui tamen vix clauditur infra mensem, sed sic pulveribus introiectis tumescit quod claudentis instantiae non obedit.
Holbrook Jackson, Anatomy of Bibliomania (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1950), Part XIX (The Misfortunes of Books), Section III (Neglect and Misusage), pp. 417-426, discusses this passage (at 422).

Related post: Pet Peeve.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?